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Posted: July 9, 2010 12:00 a.m.

Race for statewide utility regulatory commission under radar

Although the Georgia Public Service Commission gets little fanfare, the outcome of the 2010 race for one of its open seats could affect local residents more than any other statewide race.
 
The PSC regulates services provided by telecommunications, electric and natural gas companies, as well as the rates they charge to customers. The PSC does not regulate city-owned services, like the utilities sold by the city of Covington. It does regulate companies like Atmos Energy, Atlanta Gas Light and Georgia Power.
 
One seat on the five-member board is up for election in 2010. Democrat Keith Moffett and four republicans, Sen. Joseph Brush (Appling), Sen. John Douglas (Social Circle), Rep. Jeff May (Monroe) and Tim Echols are running.
 
“The PSC assists telephone, natural gas and electric utility customers with service quality issues. The consumer affairs staff answers consumer’s questions about high utility bills, service disconnections and deceptive marketing. They work with consumers to resolve complaints, investigate violations, and educate consumers about their rights under the law,” according to the PSC’s website.
 
In addition to regulating rates and helping consumers, the PSC decides on issues worth billions of dollars to utilities. According to Associated Press articles, two recent PSC decisions were giving Georgia Power permission to build solar collectors around the state and approving the next step in Southern Company’s plan to build two new nuclear reactors at Plant Vogtle.
 
The five candidates are vying to replace 18-year Commissioner Bobby Baker Jr., who was known as one of the most ardent advocates for consumers. PSC members are elected to six-year terms.
 
His stances often put him at odds with the other four commissioners in the final years of his tenure, according to a June 18 AP story by Greg Bluestein.
 
“For instance, he was the sole “nay” vote in March on a proposal that would let Georgia Power raise prices by an average of $9.91 more a month from June through September to pay for rising fuel costs,” according to the story.
 
According to a press release from Douglas, if elected, he believes he would be the first Newton County resident ever to hold a statewide office. Although Douglas and the others are running for their local District 2 seat on the PSC, the entire state votes in the race. In a phone conversation, he said it would be a great honor to represent Newton County around the state.
 
In his release, Douglas said he will: work to enforce the “Do Not Call” list and crack down on telemarketers and scam artists that take advantage of senior citizens; ensure utility bills are easy to read and understand; make sure live, English-speaking operators, not recorded messages, are available when calling the PSC; and utilize Georgia’s natural resources to help create jobs and reduce dependence on foreign energy. Voters can learn more at senatorjohndouglas.com, votejohndouglas.com, his Facebook page or by calling Douglas on his cell at (404) 375-1234.
 
According to Bluestein’s AP story, Brush is a Grovetown developer and a trained engineer. He was first elected to the Senate in 1996 after serving two terms in the state house. He has campaigned as a proponent of free-market ideas and less government.
Echols, of Athens, is aggressively emphasizing his conservative credentials.
 
“He founded a nonprofit called TeenPact and promises to use the post to fight cap-and-trade legislation and “advance conservative ideals of less government, individual liberty and the protection of human life,” the article states. His website is timechols.com.
 
“May also vows he would oppose federal policies “pushed by Washington liberals that raise rates for Georgia consumers.’ The Monroe businessman, a member of the House GOP leadership team, has also pledged to invest more money in energy infrastructure and expand the state’s nuclear power facilities,” according to the article. His website is jeffmayforpsc.com.
 
To see candidate responses to an in-depth questionnaire of PSC issues, visit the Atlanta Journal Constitution and League of Women’s Voters’ “Georgia Voter Guide” at thevoterguide.org/v/ajc10.
 
According to a May 18 poll by Rosetta Stone Communications, 75 percent of the 512 Republican Primary voters polled are undecided. Echols and May each received 9 percent of the vote, Brush received 5 percent and Douglas 2 percent. The Primary is July 20, but Douglas expects the Republican race to be finally decided in an August 10 runoff.

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